Hormones and behavior are interlinked and as the hormonal levels in the body change, a person may respond in different ways. Hormones spearhead different emotional and physical changes in children, women and men.
Our body is designed in such a manner that it functions to its fullest with the right proportion and mix of hormones. Hormones are chemicals secreted from specialized cells into the bloodstream, from where they are transported to various parts of the body to act on target tissues, thereby producing physical and mental effects in an individual.
They are secreted by various glands in the body such as thyroid gland, pituitary gland, pineal gland, pancreas, adrenal gland, parathyroid glands and gonads. Each hormone secreted by these glands have a specific set of functions.
Hormone-induced Behavioral Changes in Women
Monthly Menstrual Cycle
During the menstrual cycle in females, the levels of hormones such as follicle stimulating hormone (FSH), luteinizing hormone (LH), estrogen and progesterone are seen to fluctuate. These fluctuations cause various behavioral changes, which indicate that the woman is going through her ovulation cycle.
Studies reveal that as women near their ovulation cycle, they will eat less and have greater sexual desire. They pay more attention to men, become more flirtatious and dress sexier to attract the opposite sex. All this happens as a result of the hormonal fluctuations occurring during the menstruation.
Hormonal changes during pregnancy are also seen to affect behavior in a major way. It causes food aversions, extreme fatigue, constipation, nausea, vomiting, etc.
The body releases different levels of hormones to accommodate and take care of the baby, which is why these changes are seen to occur in the body. Mood swings are also seen as a result of the hormonal changes occurring in the body.
Pregnant women become very irritable and get angry at even the slightest triggers. They even burst into tears suddenly, after being perfectly happy a minute ago. All these emotional upheavals are attributed to the increased hormone production.
The hormone estradiol, which is the main form of estrogen is produced in large quantities during pregnancy. The other hormones produced during pregnancy are progesterone, human chorionic gonadotropin (HCG), relaxin, etc.
Moreover, latest research reveals that pregnant women have greater ability to read emotions on people's faces. On days when the level of progesterone hormone is higher, pregnant women can better identify emotions of fear and disgust.
The hormonal levels which were seen to surge during pregnancy are seen to fall rapidly, once the child is born. This sudden drop in hormonal level is also known to cause postnatal depression in some women.
While all women are slightly emotionally vulnerable after giving birth, some experience severe bouts of hormonal changes that spearheads depression.
While what exactly causes this is unknown, certain factors that lead to this condition are lack of family support, relationship problems, financial concerns, breastfeeding problems, extreme fatigue and exhaustion, etc.
Those who've given birth to premature babies or babies with health problems or deformities are often seen to get sucked into depression. In extreme cases, a person is said to be in post-natal psychosis.
As compared to men, women are more likely to slip into major depression in the years prior to menopause.
Just before menopause strikes, hormonal levels keep bouncing up and down and gradually the ovaries cease the production of hormones like progesterone, estrogen and testosterone.
As a result of these hormonal changes, women going through this phase experience menopausal symptoms like hot flushes, night sweats, sleep disturbances, menstrual irregularities and genital changes. Women are also observed to be more prone to slipping into depression due to the hormonal fluctuations.
Research has revealed that when female athletes are in the heat of competition, their bodies secrete more testosterone than in non-athletic women.
Do Hormones Spearhead Behavioral Changes in Men?
As in women, men also go through a cycle of hormonal changes. The male hormone testosterone cycles every 15 to 20 minutes, as well as in monthly and seasonal peaks and plays a role in erectile function, sexual desire arousal and mood fluctuation, which can differ from one day to another.
Though men also have particular times during the month that they feel sexually aroused, they usually work around their female partner's sexual response and hormonal fluctuations. This hormone, testosterone is also responsible for a grouchy boss, a highly competitive hand ball partner and an aloof husband.
Too much testosterone can cause men to become very aggressive and irritable.
Then there's the male menopause or andropause, wherein, the levels of male hormone testosterone drop with every passing year, from the age of 40. This drop results in symptoms such as low sex drive, mood swings, fatigue, etc.
Men going through andropause also develop a disinterest in the affairs of things happening around them. However, this is part of the regular aging process and is nothing to be worried about.
Behavioral Effects of Hormones in Children
As children near puberty various physical and behavioral changes can be observed. Physical changes range from growth spurts to growth of body hair, pimples, breast enlargement (in girls) to change in voice, etc. Behavioral changes involve mood swings and mood instability. Nevertheless, hormones cannot be held responsible for all mood swings.
By the age of 13, the hormones settle down and the mood swings experienced after that, are conduced by other factors in life.
Children in whom sex hormones are produced at an early age are seen to be more assertive and aggressive, as compared to other children.
A study conducted on hormones and behavior in children, stated that early puberty conduced to abnormal eating behavior and anxiety in teenage girls and boys. Teenagers enter the phase of crushes and romance and feel giddy with love due to the action of a hormone, phenylethylamine that rises with romance.
Besides these hormones and behavioral patterns, there are several others that cannot be penned down here. Hormonal imbalances can be caused by stress, which is why it is important to take care of yourself and get less stressed out.
Though we saw that a change in hormone level can lead to mood, memory and behavioral changes, it is important to note that we are not controlled by hormones. We are not slaves to brain chemicals. So, the next time you get angry and sulk all day, don't go blaming it on the hormones! Always remember, we need to take responsibility for our own actions.
Disclaimer: This is for informative purposes only and does not in any way attempt to replace the advice offered by an expert on the subject.